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Contention is a way of life for us in the metal world, we live and die by how much of it we can cause either amongst ourselves, or in the visible mainstream that we have a tenuous relationship with. And in death metal circles, few albums are more contentious than the last offering of the band after which the genre was coined. Some go so far as to assert that this album is not death metal at all, but some sort of extreme progressive album or, odder yet, an outright power metal album with harsh vocals. In an exterior sense, this viewpoint can be sympathized with as much of the material that made it onto "The Sound Of Perseverance" was intended for Chuck's soon to be born Control Denied project, which was an outright power/progressive effort.
The only retort that can really be made, and I share in making it, is that by 1998 death metal's boundaries did not conform to the same ones that were in place 10 years prior. When looking not only at the beginning breaks with tradition made by many other accomplished acts in the early to mid 90s, particularly that of Cynic, but also the rise of the heavy/power metal influences that crept into the scene via that Gothenburg scene, the notion of the narrow paradigm seized upon by Immolation and Incantation, though a very powerful one in itself, was no longer the case. And arguably, Chuck Schuldiner's early influences via certain NWOBHM bands made him something of a melodic death metal proponent before such a thing even existed, even going back to his earliest demo work in 1984-85.
That's the perplexing thing about the mixed reaction that "The Sound Of Perseverance" tends to receive. This album is not a sudden 90 degree left turn in the midst of a 15 year career of stylistic straight away driving, but a culmination of a lengthy period of evolution over the entire 1990s. It is possible to argue that the frog can jump out of the pan when the water starts to get hot, but that argument pretty well fails to make sense by the time "Symbolic" came out, an album that this one is not all that far away from. Yes, the strong influence of Chuck's earlier metal and progressive influences are strongest on this album. Yes, this album was created as a compromise with Nuclear Blast so that they would accept the Control Denied project. Of course, the lead guitar work gets dangerously close to show boating territory and Schuldiner's shouts are much higher in pitch and strongly resembles what is heard in early Children Of Bodom and Skyfire, but the separation between this album and the previous 2 is not as massive musically as one might assume.
Right at the beginning of this album, it's clear that this is a version of Death that wants to showcase their chops, as the guitar lead-in to "Scavenger Of Human Sorrow" almost sounds akin to a Malmsteen paraphrase. As the song gets rolling, a familiar deluge of speeding thrash riff celebrations and rhythmic groove change ups enter the scene. This picture is a bit more mixed up and progressive on "Bite The Pain" and "Story To Tell", a couple of slower songs that play more into the mixed rhythm style that was very present on "Symbolic". "Spirit Crusher" and "To Forgive Is To Suffer" are where the comparisons to more power metal oriented melodeath bands come into play, as the song structure gets a bit more simplified and the catchy factor becomes incredibly overt, especially on the refrain of "Spirit Crusher", which would be excellent sing along material if most people could echo Schuldiner's agonized shrieks without ripping apart their vocal chords.
But all of what has been discussed here is pretty well par for the course in Schuldiner's evolutionary tendencies (minus his vocal shift). Amid the battering array of thunderous anthems are a couple of interesting twists that can be qualified as down right surprising. "Voice Of The Soul" is probably the most moving instrumental to ever come out of a death metal band, riding an intricate classical acoustic guitar line and highlighting both Schuldiner and newly recruited co-axe man Shannon Hamm (also on the Control Denied roster) ability to achieve a haunting melodic atmosphere and also show their shredding skills. The epic "Flesh And The Power It Holds" is also an impressive lead guitar display that could rival much of John Petrucci's work, and the large collection of musical ideas are not all that far from something that could have been heard on "Awake" if the keyboards took a hike and Schuldiner took over singing duties. And if that were not enough to put the dismissive "all death metal sounds the same" types in their place, things conclude with an amazingly faithful rendition of Judas Priest's "Painkiller", where Schuldiner's banshee screams remain morose yet somehow conform themselves to Halford's range, and we even get a taste of his clean melodic voice when the lead guitars aren't soaring in the upper stratosphere.
Opinions will always vary on the nature of this album's genre, but a more important story is told within its songs. This is the closing opus of a project that began under the name Mantas, lead by a kid who had dreams of recording old school heavy metal, got caught up in a more dangerous and trailblazing art form, and then finally came full circle. It's uncertain if Chuck left this world feeling that he fully accomplished what he set out to do, but whatever he intended, he leaves behind a highly influential discography that inspires bands to test their premises on what metal actually is. "The Sound Of Perseverance" could be seen as somewhat self-serving given that it showed Chuck beginning to break with his established audience, but considering what came before it, he clearly deserved some self-gratification, and ended up recording yet another intricate fit of controlled rage in the process.